Wait, Did I Just Say “Disruption of Transportation”?

I was writing that last post so quickly because I had to run out that I wrote something and ran right past it, without pausing to think about it:

I think we’re looking at a major disruption of the way transportation works in the next several years.

Did I say that? Yes I did – and in fact I believe it. I expect that sometime in the not-too-distant future, we’re going to see not just incremental change in transportation – not better gas milage in our SUVs, not a rise in the sales of hybrids – but rapid, large, systemic change in the way day-to-day transportation works, particularly in the all-out dominance of cars as the way people get around cities.

Just like the newspaper industry got disrupted, just like the music industry got disrupted before that, and just like dictatorship is getting disrupted halfway around the world right now, individual, car-based transportation is going to get disrupted sometime soon.

What is going to disrupt it? Something easier and nicer for our day-to-day lives, that doesn’t require us to fight traffic to get wherever we’re going, or circle for half an hour to find parking. Something cheaper, that doesn’t cost us $3.65 a gallon, or $120 a ticket, or hundreds of dollars a month in insurance, or thousands in repairs. Something flexible, that meets our individual needs – not all of them necessarily, but maybe 80 percent of them, with the other 20 percent being met by various public modes. Something that makes more sense to people. A no-brainer. Maybe something fun, and light, and… ?

I’m not sure – I’m bumping up against the limits of my prognostication abilities here. But whatever it is that is coming is going to take car makers by surprise. They wont see it coming and they wont have a game against it.

Why do I think this? Because A) there is so much innovative thinking going on in transportation right now around the world, and so many new possibilities across so many different fronts, that something is bound to find its way into that disruption zone before too long. And B) cars, though they have the benefit of incredible entrenchment, have a gigantic PR problem ahead of them – they’re basically the cigarettes of the planet. (And selling low-emissions cars is like putting filters on those cigarettes to try to fix the problem.) Unless someone can suddenly come up with an all-solar car, that PR problem is only going to fester over time, making disruption ever-more possible.

Am I saying cars are going away? Ha – no. Newspapers got disrupted but they’re still with us, music labels got disrupted but they’re still with us. The car industry is going to be here for a long time. But sometime before too long, they’re going to suddenly seem like yesterday’s thing. And they will be.

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Pam Broviak

The only idea I can think of right now that would be innovative and yet within reach is PRT (personal rapid transit). It is already under way at different locations in Europe. For some time now, I have been resigned to thinking it might take many many years to even show up on the radar in our country. But today I was reading about Ford Motor company and how they are moving to create a more innovative vehicle. From the angle of the article, I could almost believe they are thinking along the lines of how a PRT operates: an individual vehicle controlled by a programmed system.